Hong Kong Ivory BAN - Hope For the Elegant Elephant

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Hong Kong Ivory BAN - Hope For the Elegant Elephant

Intricate carvings of women in flowing gowns, majestic horses, and folklore characters are among the countless items that are disappearing from shop shelves in mainland China as the strict government implements an ivory trading ban for the world’s largest consumer of ivory.

Now Hong Kong, the largest ivory retail market, is preparing to do the same. Lawmakers voted Jan. 31 to completely ban the sale of ivory starting in 2021, and to sharply increase penalties for wildlife crimes. Both bans include exceptions for certain antiques and cultural relics. The details on these antiques and relics are unclear, which leads Good Life Bracelets and others to worry. 

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After China's ban last year, the Hong Kong government follows suit. This decision to outlaw the sale of ivory has conservationists hopeful it will drastically bring down the rate at which elephants are being poached in Africa. 

Wildlife researchers are optimistic that the ivory bans in China and Hong Kong are promising steps toward conserving elephant populations, as legal markets often function as a cover up for illegal markets. By closing legal markets of ivory, legislators and conservationists hope to further restrict access to ivory and lower prices and demand for ivory products.

“Bans on ivory reduce the incentive to poach for elephants because there’s nowhere for the ivory to go..” says Elly Pepper, deputy director of the wildlife trade initiative at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.

Banning ivory, along with wider efforts to crack down on the illegal ivory trade, is ultimately aimed at saving elephants whose numbers are threatened by high levels of poaching.

It's estimated that over 30,000+ elephants are killed each year for their tusks alone. Elephant poaching in Africa has been in decline for the past five years, according to a 2016 report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but elephants are still highly at risk of extinction. “[Poachers] are killing more elephants than can be born,” says Jan Vertefeuille, senior director of advocacy and wildlife conservation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Washington. “It’s still a huge problem.”

Illegal poaching often finds an outlet in legal markets. Though the international commercial trade of ivory has been effectively banned since 1990 under CITES, domestic ivory markets have continued, regulated by national and local governments. So called "legal ivory" was termed, but how can one tell the difference between "legal" and "illegal" ivory?

“[T]hat really is the history of the ivory trade,” says Peter Knights, chief executive officer of WildAid in San Francisco. “When there’s been legal ivory trade, it’s served as a cover for laundering of illegal ivory.”

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